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Notes From Underground: On the set of Troma’s “Terror Firmer”

Notes From Underground: On the set of Troma's "Terror Firmer"


by Joshua Moss

Walking onto a Troma set for the first time, my head danced with
expectations. Bizarre mutant freaks running around naked? A drug
infested orgy? Sgt. Kabukiman heading up security? But upon visiting
the outdoor Brooklyn set of Troma’s latest production “Terror Firmer,”
my lurid fantasies turned out to be only partially true.

As I approached the set, I studied the oddball cast Troma had assembled.
This included six or seven punks dressed in full “Class of 1984” style
who were sitting in the back of the equipment truck, four of the them
proudly displaying a single fake female breast poking through their
clothes. I turned to survey the scene at craft services where one
actress had a giant purple penis covering her nose. And then there were
the mutant cross-dressers. ‘Troma, thy name is class’, I thought to

What immediately impressed me after talking to some of the cast and crew
was that no one harbored any illusions that they were making anything
that might be considered “good”. Constant wisecracking was heard by
both cast and crew, including the director and Troma’s founder, Lloyd
Kaufman, who kept the set’s mood light, friendly and self-deprecating.
Still, Kaufman wouldn’t hesitate to bark at a crew member if something
wasn’t right. “Where the hell’s the damn cheese-whiz for the fart
scene?” Kaufman snapped at an assistant, who quickly scurried away to
procure a bottle of the gooey stuff.

“Terror Firmer” revolves around a film crew shooting a horror film while
being hunted by a crazed psycho loose in New York City. Kaufman himself
makes his acting debut, playing (what else?) the film’s director. The
idea for the film is loosely based on Kaufman’s recently published
autobiography, “All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From ‘The
Toxic Avenger'”, but this being Troma and all, features plenty of crazed
mutants, exploding heads, vomiting, blood and, naturally, splattered

When asked about the gore factor, lead actress Alyce LaTourelle
commented, “My character is the demure one, continually covering up the
exposed breasts of others, but in today’s scene I get to puke up some
green vomit, so they threw me a bone, I guess.”

“I start off as a man, but it changes from there,” said star and casting
director, Will Keenan (“Tromeo and Juliet,” “Love God“) standing before
me with fake breasts and full makeup. “This film is the furthest Mr.
Kaufman has gone in the way of sex, violence, blood, guts and tits,” he
added. But before I could respond we were interrupted by a large
explosion on the set as the crew filmed Lloyd Kaufman’s character
exploding into a giant ball of fire. The cast and crew applauded wildly
as I watched two crew members run over and carry off the stand-in
dummy’s now mangled and headless body. But don’t fear, Troma fans! The
real Lloyd Kaufman was very much alive, and immediately began prepping
the next scene.

In addition to making a theatrical film of “Terror Firma,” Kaufman is
shooting three to five cameras at any given time to allow for the DVD
release to feature a sort of choose-your-own-camera-angle bonus to each
scene. Also, alternative scenes will be filmed allowing the DVD viewer
to follow different story-lines if he chooses. “On DVD, if, say, you
don’t like my acting because it sucks, you can click on one of the
background actors and get a whole different plot about them,” commented
Kaufman between takes.

Continuing the new-technology spin, Kaufman has arranged for a live
web-cast to be done from the set starting August 18th, in which Troma
fans from around the world can watch a live video feed of the shoot and
e-mail Kaufman their directing suggestions. “Someone from, say, Nepal,
can log on to our website and say ‘Don’t do a tracking shot, do a static
shot,’ and that way I figure it, their directing can’t be any worse than
the way I do it.”

Troma is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but didn’t really
hit the big-time until Troma founder Kaufman directed “The Toxic
Avenger,” which exploded onto the film scene in 1983. Since then,
Troma has grown into a large independent studio with close to three
hundred films in their catalog, including “Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD,” “Class
of Nuke ‘Em High” and “Tromeo and Juliet.” Upcoming Troma pickups
slated for theatrical release include Trey Parker’s “Cannibal: The
” (co-starring Parker’s “South Park” cohort, Matt Stone), as well
as famed Italian auteur Dario (“Suspiria“, “Opera“) Argento’s latest
film, “The Stendhal Syndrome.”

As I stood by the set unsuccessfully trying to blend in with the
one-breasted punks, the mutant crew members and the famed low budget
“Scream Queens” in skimpy outfits, I realized that beneath it all, these
people were pretty damn normal. As proof, I struck up a conversation
with the penis-nosed actress about independent film. “Have you seen
Buffalo 66‘?”, she asked me, her penis-nose bobbing with excitement.
“It was great! I liked it much better then ‘Pi‘.” “Haven’t seen it
yet,” I stuttered.

Just then, the Assistant Director came by with his bullhorn. “All cast
report to the set!” As the two film cameras and three digital DVD
cameras set up their various angles, Kaufman yelled for people to take
their places for a run-through. It’s really just another film set.

[“Terror Firmer” is slated for a May 1999 release. The “Terror Firmer”
live webcast will be occurring late next week and running for one week
on their website, www.troma.com].

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